WRX – Season Finale – South Africa

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson entered the record books as the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver won the first ever World RX event staged in Africa.

Former World RX Champion Mattias Ekstrom finished third and consequently secured the runner-up spot in the 2017 championship after a season-long battle with Petter Solberg.  Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Timmy Hansen claimed second at this weekend’s Gumtree World RX of South Africa – the 12th and final round of this year’s FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy.

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

In the final round of the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires  Frenchman Cyril Raymond rounded off a near-perfect season by taking his sixth win in the highly competitive seven-event feeder series.  Great Britain’s Dan Rooke had a troubled final when he rolled his car on lap two, causing the race to be red-flagged.  Despite this mishap, Rooke secured second in the 2017 standings.  Sondre Evjen and Tanner Whitten finished second and third in Cape Town. Belgium’s Guillaume De-Ridder claimed third in the end of year leaderboard.

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

“It’s fantastic to wrap up the teams’ and drivers’ championship and to also take the win at the final round of the season,” grinned 2017 World RX Champion Kristoffersson who won a staggering seven out of 12 events this season.  “The team has worked so hard this year and ten podium results is credit to how fantastic everyone has been. Obviously to break records in World RX is an amazing feeling but to have won the World Championship is so unbelievably special. It was a good weekend all round – I had a slow puncture in the semi-final but I got a really good launch in the final and when I got clear space I was able to manage the gap back from Timmy and Mattias, as well as manage the tyres well.  Thanks to everyone for such a memorable season – I’m really looking forward to being back with VW in 2018.”

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

Runner-up Hansen added: “This has been one of the best weekends I’ve had this year and it’s great to finish on a high including my two qualifying wins. I really wanted to take the victory for Peugeot and this weekend we were so close – I gave it everything I had in the final but I lost a little bit too much in the first lap to be able to get ahead of Johan. The 208 has been fantastic all year and it worked especially well at this track.”

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

Ekstrom’s reactions were fastest of today’s six finalists, rewarding him with the final Monster Energy Super Charge Award of 2017.  Despite losing his World RX crown to Kristoffersson, Ekstrom praised the new World Champion. “Sometimes you’re in front and sometime you’re behind – that’s just how it goes and Johan definitely deserves the win today and the World Championship too. Timmy was really fast this weekend too, but to be honest, everybody wants to win – World RX has now reached a level where everyone will battle for everything.”

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

When asked about the new Cape Town RX event, Ekstrom praised the enthusiasm of the South African fans.  “The grandstands were full this weekend and the atmosphere and support from everyone here was amazing.”

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

Solberg finished fourth in Cape Town and finished the season third in the driver standings – five points adrift of Ekstrom.   “Of course it’s a little bit disappointing not to take the silver,” admitted Solberg. “I am so proud of what we have done. Johan has broken so many records this year and the whole team, everybody in PSRX Volkswagen Sweden has worked and played so hard – this weekend and this year is because of them and I can’t thank them all enough.”

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

MJP Racing Team Austria’s Timo Scheider’s rounded out the top five in Cape Town after an impressive rookie season at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta.  Kevin Hansen finished sixth, the Swede having retired shortly after the start with transmission problems.

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

In what marked the final event for the Hoonigan Racing Division, America’s Ken Block showed fantastic pace. He led the event overnight and finished second in semi-final one but was later disqualified as his car was found to be underweight.

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

Nine-time WRC Champion Sebastien Loeb retired on the final lap of the second semi-final but rounded off the season fourth in the overall standings – 13 points ahead of his team-mate Hansen who ends the year in fifth place.

Home favourites Mark Cronje and Ashley Haigh-Smith received tremendous support on their World RX debuts but neither driver made the semi-finals.

(c) 2017 – Junaid Samodien

Paul Bellamy, World RX Managing Director for IMG, concluded: “Our first ever event in Cape Town was a resounding success – we’ve had over 27,000 people at Killarney this weekend and they were all treated to World Championship motorsport at its best. I think we’ve won over a lot of new support during our time in South Africa and the crowd really helped make this weekend a memorable event. Tickets for 2018 are on sale from tomorrow which will give people plenty of time to plan next year’s rallycross weekend. I’d like to thank the organisers and volunteers for all their hard work in putting on a great event and also to the City of Cape Town for its support in making this happen. I’m also very thankful that our sponsors and other commercial partners shared our vision and were so supportive of the inaugural Gumtree World RX of South Africa. This weekend was just the start of what I hope is a long and fruitful relationship for World RX in South Africa.  We finish the season on a high and congratulations to Johan Kristoffersson and PSRX Volkswagen Sweden for their incredible season and to the rest of the teams for their continued support.”

 

RX2 – ROUND-UP

Cyril Raymond completed a sensational season in the RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires with a hard-fought victory at Killarney International Raceway this weekend (11/12 November), as South Africa played host to a pulsating finale that served up lap after lap of spectacular high-octane action.

He might have been unquestionably the man to beat this year in the official FIA World Rallycross Championship feeder series, but Raymond found himself with a real fight on his hands in Cape Town and had to dig deep to overcome the challenge posed by JC Raceteknik rival Guillaume De Ridder, who dominated Saturday’s Qualifying Races.

The Belgian looked to be on-course for a fourth straight runner-up finish, only for engine woes to dash his hopes in the final and elevate his team-mate Sondre Evjen into second place. Tanner Whitten joined the young Norwegian on the podium in third after surviving a wild spin when he was tagged on the opening lap of Q4.

Qualifying Races

Gumtree World RX of South Africa was very much a weekend of two halves as far as the Qualifying Races were concerned, with De Ridder proving to be peerless on Saturday as he impressively took a clean sweep of fastest times – meaning that for the first time since Mettet back in May, a different name topped the RX2 Intermediate Rankings at the close of day one.

After uncharacteristically jumping the start in Q1, Raymond was playing catch-up, but the Olsbergs MSE star really turned up the wick on Sunday and allied to a double dose of misfortune for De Ridder – with contact from behind in Q3 and minor wheel damage in Q4 – his results vaulted the Frenchman to his habitual position at the summit of the standings.

Behind the top two, Evjen produced a consistently strong run – including the second-fastest time in Q4 – to place third, ahead of the ever-improving Vasiliy Gryazin (Latvia), Britain’s Dan Rooke and American ace Whitten. Swedes Simon Olofsson and Andreas Bäckman, Norway’s Thomas Holmen, Swedish teenager William Nilsson, Anders Michalak (Sweden) and Norwegian Simon Syversen rounded out the semi-final line-up.

Semi-Finals

From pole position in Semi-Final 1, Raymond led into the first corner as a squabble behind gifted him a sizeable margin. It was Rooke that emerged from the mêlée in second, with Olofsson third and Evjen dropping to fourth. The Norwegian subsequently found himself having to fend off fast-starting compatriot Thomas Holmen over the opening lap before electing to take an early joker. It was a tactic that would pay off richly.

As Raymond raced clear to a runaway success, Evjen’s eye-catching pace enabled him to leapfrog both Rooke and Olofsson when they jokered, the latter paying the price for getting his car up on two wheels as he pushed hard in an effort to stay in front. The Swede ultimately missed out on the final by less than two seconds, while behind, Holmen and Syversen waged their own entertaining duel over fifth, exchanging places twice on the last lap before the older of the two Norwegians eventually prevailed.

In Semi-Final 2, De Ridder held his ground at the start as Gryazin got the better of Whitten and Michalak for second and Bäckman and Nilsson disputed fifth. Whitten jumped Gryazin after both had served their jokers, following which he unleashed a scintillating turn-of-speed as he endeavoured to hunt down De Ridder, closing to within three-quarters-of-a-second by the time the chequered flag fell. Michalak got the best of a tooth-and-nail scrap with countrymen Nilsson and Bäckman for fourth.

Final

Raymond led away at lights-out, with De Ridder doing well to save a slide through Turn One after receiving a tap. The Belgian had to fight hard to fend off the attacking Whitten, but it all became academic when the red flags flew on lap two after Rooke’s world turned upside-down – quite literally. The Briton clipped the tyres at the chicane, pitching him into a dramatic roll from which he thankfully emerged unscathed.

The recently-crowned champion got the jump again at the re-start, as De Ridder slotted in behind and Gryazin took advantage of Whitten and Evjen battling to sneak through to third. As dust clouds billowed all around the circuit, Raymond made good his escape and De Ridder similarly settled into second until he suddenly stopped on the penultimate lap with engine issues.

His loss was Evjen and Whitten’s gain. The pair both used early jokers to get some clear air, and that paid dividends as they overhauled Gryazin to snare the remaining rostrum positions. All three podium-finishers stopped after the chequered flag to perform celebratory donuts, to the palpable delight of the enthusiastic crowds thronging the circuit grandstands.

Quote, Unquote

Cyril Raymond (1st): “It’s been an amazing weekend to cap an amazing year – there’s no better way to end a season than with a victory. It was fantastic to see so many people at Killarney and so much passion and support in the grandstands. It was an absolute pleasure to be here and everybody gave us an incredible welcome. With the title already won, I really wanted to finish the season in style with one last victory – as a competitor, that’s always the goal – although things didn’t begin too well when I jumped the start in Q1, which was a first for me in this category! After that, I had to battle my way back, but it wasn’t easy because Guillaume [De Ridder] was driving perfectly; he has been a formidable rival all year, and if he returns in 2018, he will be a real threat. We were on the back foot at the end of the first day, but we remained confident because we knew we had the pace and we quickly rediscovered our rhythm in Q3. The boys at Olsbergs MSE worked really hard and provided me with the tools I needed to do the job like they have done all year, and my spotter ‘Scooter’ gave me perfect guidance throughout, so this result is for all of them – we win together. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experience in RX2; there has been a lot of respect between all the drivers all season both on the track and in the paddock, and it’s been great to be a part of it. There seems to be a real buzz around the championship and even more interest for next year, so I can’t wait to see how it develops.”

Sondre Evjen (2nd): “It’s been a fantastic experience to come and race in South Africa – a real highlight for me – and it feels great to finally finish on the podium in RX2! It’s been a long time coming and it’s the kind of result we’ve been chasing all year, so this is the perfect way to end the season. We’ve been quick at most circuits and made the semi-final five times before now but only once converted that into a final appearance, so I’m really happy that we were at last able to prove what we are capable of, as we showed with the second-fastest time after getting a clear run in Q4. We really had to fight for this result, and I must admit, I wasn’t sorry to see the final red-flagged as I lost a lot of time when Dan [Rooke] rolled and thought any chance of the podium was gone. I’m also obviously very relieved he is ok. All credit to the team for giving me a great car all weekend – this podium is for them, my family and my sponsors, and it leaves us with a lot of motivation heading into 2018.”

Tanner Whitten (3rd): “The weekend started out pretty well, and from there, we worked our way consistently up the timesheets. We set the car up to come on later in the semi-final, and I think that showed as we were particularly strong in the latter stages. That put us in a good position going into the final and I actually thought we had an opportunity to take second until the red flags came out, but ultimately, to finish on the podium is always a great result. I take my hat off to the organisers in Cape Town – they did a fantastic job to build a track that played to the strengths of a variety of different driving styles – and the fans gave us a phenomenal welcome. It was incredible to see so many people in the grandstands and at the autograph sessions – there was a huge turnout for the first edition, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the event grows. Overall for me, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster year, but to come away with four podiums is very positive and I’m looking forward now to taking this momentum into the off-season and hopefully 2018.”

Andreas Eriksson, RX2 International Series presented by Cooper Tires CEO: “We promised the South African people excitement and drama, and I think it’s safe to say our RX2 stars delivered every step of the way! Congratulations to Cyril, who produced a champion’s drive even when he no longer had anything to prove. He is a class act and wherever he competes next year – be it RX2 or elsewhere – we wish him the very best. I was delighted, too, to see Sondre up on the podium, which was thoroughly well-deserved after a superb performance. It was a shame that his team-mate Guillame was forced out through no fault of his own, but he clearly demonstrated on Saturday that his time will come. Likewise for Tanner – both are part of the new generation of young rallycross talents looking to follow in Cyril’s footsteps. Finally, what a wonderful place to conclude the season – South Africa has truly embraced our sport and gave us the very warmest of welcomes. We look forward to returning next year, as both the event and RX2 go from strength-to-strength.”

 

Final Result

  1. Cyril RAYMOND (FRA) Olsbergs MSE 6 laps
  2. Sondre EVJEN (NOR) JC Raceteknik +5.668s
  3. Tanner WHITTEN (USA) Olsbergs MSE +6.198s
  4. Vasiliy GRYAZIN (LVA) Sports Racing Technologies +7.374s
  5. Guillaume DE RIDDER (BEL) JC Raceteknik +2 laps
  6. Dan ROOKE (GBR) Team Färén +6 laps

Final Championship Standings – RX2

  1. Cyril Raymond (FRA) 198 points
  2. Dan Rooke (GBR) 154 points
  3. Guillaume De Ridder (BEL) 138 points
  4. Tanner Whitten (USA) 105 points
  5. William Nilsson (SWE) 98 points
  6. Simon Olofsson (SWE) 98 points
  7. Vasiliy Gryazin (LVA) 94 points
  8. Sondre Evjen (NOR) 93 points
  9. Glenn Haug (NOR) 76 points
  10. Andreas Bäckman (SWE) 69 points

Penalties

World RX

Niclas Gronholm #68, loss of 10 Championship points for use of a seventh turbocharger in the season.

Mattias Ekstrom #1, five-second penalty in Q2 for causing an incident with car #44, pushing and overtaking.

Janis Baumanis #6, reprimand in Q2 for pushing.

Ken Block #43, disqualified from semi-final two after car was found to be underweight.

Mattias Ekstrom #1, relegated from second to third place in semi-final one for not respecting the priority of the driver on the standard lap at the Joker merge.

Timo Schedier #44, reprimand in semi final two for pushing.

RX2

William Nilsson #6, five-second penalty in Q3 for causing an incident with car #96.

WRX – TOP 20 FINAL STANDINGS

 

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

 

CoTA Added To 2018 WRX Calendar

The FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy will have its first US event in 2018. Championship rights holder IMG has agreed a five-year deal with Circuit of the Americas (COTA) at Austin, Texas.  World RX will make its debut in the United States of America on the weekend of 29-30 September 2018 as part of a festival weekend.

The USA is a key territory for World RX teams, manufacturers and sponsors and this latest news is in line with the World Championship’s continued growth.  The 2018 calendar will feature nine European rounds, Canada, the USA and South Africa.

World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, commented:

“The United States of America has been on our radar since the World Championship began in 2014 but we were determined to wait for the right opportunity. We have been in discussion with a number of venues across the USA but COTA shared our vision for the World Championship and can deliver a key objective of building a first-class rallycross facility. With IMG’s strong presence throughout the US we are confident that the COTA World RX event will be a huge success.”

Bellamy added:

“Other elements of the weekend that we are working on include music, food festivals and action sports – allowing fans from a variety of backgrounds to attend and enjoy an action-packed weekend in the “live music capital of the world”.  The track that we are constructing will be in the stadium area on part of the F1 circuit between turns 12 and 15 – a natural amphitheatre that will enable fans to see the whole track from their seat.”

COTA Chair Bobby Epstein concluded:

“We are delighted to announce that another FIA World Championship will be coming to COTA. There is no doubt that rallycross is a rapidly growing discipline – the fans can watch races in quick succession and the 600bhp cars are mightily impressive.  The addition of a world-class rallycross circuit will be a welcome addition to our growing venue, and we look forward to working closely with IMG in making the first ever World RX event in the USA a resounding success.”

COTA already hosts the USA rounds of Formula One and MotoGP.

Construction of the new rallycross circuit is expected to get underway in the coming months.

The provisional 2018 calendar looks like this:

2018 World RX Calendar*

Spain – Barcelona – 14/15 April

Portugal – Montalegre – 28/29 April

Belgium – Mettet – 12/13 May

Great Britain – Silverstone – 26/27 May

Norway – Hell – 9/10 June

Sweden – Holjes –  30 June/1 July

Canada – Trois-Rivieres – 4/5 August

France – Loheac – 1/2 September

Latvia – Riga – 15/16 September

USA – COTA – 29/30 September

Germany – Estering – 13/14 October

South Africa – Cape Town – 24/25 November

*Subject to confirmation by the FIA World Motor Sport Council in December

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

South Africa Welcomes WRX

World Rallycross packs up its circus and travels to South Africa for the first time since its inception and the last round of the season.

Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson may have secured the WRX title (as predicted by yours truly at the beginning of the season) but there is still second place up for grabs with former champions Mattias Ekstrom and Petter Solberg separated by just the one point.

Joining the permanent rallycross drivers will be two South African drivers, set to compete in their home RX. Mark Cronje will take the drive for Albatec Racing in the Peugeot 208 with Ashley Haigh-Smith competing an Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta. They will be joined on the grid by other wildcards Oliver Eriksson from Sweden who will drive in a second Olsbergs and Belgian Gregoire Demoustier who will race the Peugeot 208 for DA Racing alongside Jean-Baptiste Dubourg.

The only driver on the grid who has fully experienced the Killarney International Raceway is Rene Muennich who drove at the event launch.

The Killarney International Raceway is 1.07km circuit with eight turns. It is 60% asphalt and 40% gravel. The joker comes after turn 5, a sweeping ‘parabolica’ style extra which curves round the outside of turn 6 and has its own right-hander (tagged Turn 6a) which flashes out onto the straight as the cars speed down towards turn 7 into a kinked turn 8 towards the start/finish straight.

The circuit itself has Table Mountain visible in the distance. It was upgraded at the end of the 1950s in line with FIA standard regulations and in 1960 hosted its first international Formula 1 race, be it that it was a non-championship affair. This race was won by Stirling Moss in a Porsche, winning a very closely contested drive by just two tenths from his fellow Porsche driver Jo Bonnier. Wolfgang von Trips completed the podium in his Team Lotus-Climax.

Although this is the first visit of WRX, Killarney also hosts other series such as single-seaters, GT’s, motocross, karting, super motards, stock cars and drag racing.

The rallycross track itself looks fast and sweeping and is certain to host some closely contested racing.

With the recent news that Ford will not be developing a new Focus for WRX which in turn lead to the announcement by Hoonigan Racing Division that they will not be competing next season, this last season RX event could be the opportunity for new teams and/or new drivers to put their name in the market place for what is the most dynamic four-wheeled racing series on the planet.

Double WRX champion Petter Solberg had this to say about the event:

“I expect South Africa to become a fantastic event. What more would motorsport loving crowds want than a full World RX display of the roughest and fastest cars on the planet racing each other? I will for sure be there fighting for the season finale win!”

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Hamilton And Solberg Jnr. To Appear In Canada

Hamilton To Star At Canada RX

Rising motorsport stars Nic Hamilton and Oliver Solberg will compete in the supporting categories at the Canadian round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy at Trois-Rivieres next week.

Hamilton, the younger brother of three-time Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, is currently competing in the British Renault Clio Cup series and will make his rallycross-circuit debut on sealed and unsealed surfaces driving a Canadian side-by-side Can-Am Maverick X3 at Trois-Rivieres, prepared by Fuca Racing.

“I’m very honoured to have been chosen to compete. For me it’s always been a dream to be part of a World Rallycross weekend. Being an on-road driver myself, I’m really looking forward to doing some off-road stuff, to drift and control the car on different terrains,” said Hamilton. “I’m just going to go out and have fun – I’ve got a lot to learn but I’m really looking forward to it and I’m definitely up for the challenge.”

Oliver Solberg, son of two-time World RX Champion Petter, is racing his father’s title-winning Citroen DS3 Supercar in the RallyX Nordic Championship this season (and won round two in Sweden), and is also rallying in Latvia. The 15-year-old will compete in the four-wheel drive CXE national rallycross category at Trois-Rivieres, while his father races in the main event for the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden team.

“It’s a cool track, I always love going to it,” said Solberg Jnr. “It’s like a rally stage with big jumps and big gravel. It’s a bit of a different car than I’m used to, but it will be very good fun.”

The World RX weekend in Canada will being with the traditional down-town parade of World RX cars on Friday evening.

Neil Simmons – @world_racing

WRX – Farewell Lydden – Part Two

Of course, being the Sunday of World Rallycross the crowds flocked and the queue on the A2 backed up. We managed to slot into the queue and from the dual carriageway I could see that the cars were being directed into the top field above the circuit, adjacent to a field which the previous day had been clear. We negotiated our way into Lydden Hill and made our way down the dusty track to hopefully where we parked the before, in the VIP and media car park behind the grandstand, but our hopes faded as the security guard on the point directed us to…yes you guessed it, the top field adjacent to the field which I had seen on the way in. It was going to be a longer trek down to the circuit, but the sun was out and the cars were revving. It was a perfect day.

Our first stop-off point was the garage of Oliver Bennett. He was guesting in the WRX for this round. His Ford Fiesta was parked under an Xite Energy drinks marquee, his major sponsor and there were plastic shot containers on a desk with a variety of different flavours to try, of course it would be rude not to take full advantage of the complimentary offers so I did. He was being spoken to by Liam Doran who was in Bennett’s garage this weekend and they were discussing tactics and how the next two qualifying heats should be approached. Bennett took on board what Doran had to say and then donned his racing helmet to jump into the car whilst Liam Doran picked up the radio headset and headed off towards his spotting position.

Time was ticking down and I could hear the cars making their way through the paddock into the pre-grid area situated in front of the Monster Energy tower. We wandered in that general direction and I sauntered by the Team Peugeot garage and spotted the Frenchman who I spoke to the previous day who sponsored the team. He walked over to me and we started chatting and he asked if I was still interested in speaking with the drivers, which of course I said yes. He grabbed the team PR lady and we arranged that I would visit the hospitality area at around 4.30pm. First job of the day complete.

It was time for Q3

Petter Solberg would go top again in a weekend he was beginning to thoroughly dominate. He was over one and a half seconds in front of his team mate, Kristoffersson and over three seconds ahead of Ekstrom. All three drivers maintained their position from Q2

Solberg led the race and took his joker on lap three, re-taking the lead when Kristoffersson took his joker on lap four.

Behind the top three, Norway’s Andreas Bakkerud and Sweden’s Timmy Hansen battled over fourth place in the race and were fifth and seventh in Q3, Hansen’s Team Peugeot-Hansen team mate Sebastien Loeb was fourth and America’s Ken Block sixth, the two drivers continuing their battle from Saturday at Lydden Hill.

Like he was in Q1, Finland’s Topi Heikkinen was eighth fastest in Q3 to return to the top twelve after he was slowed with an engine problem in Q2. Sweden’s Kevin Eriksson also won his race in Q3 and was ninth fastest, with Heikkinen’s EKS team mate Reinis Nitiss 10th. Finland’s Niclas Gronholm was also inside the top 12 along with Sweden’s Kevin Hansen. Great Britain’s Andrew Jordan wass currently in the semi-final places for the MJP Racing Team Austria team, in 11th, despite being slowed with technical problems at the end of his race in Q3.

The postitions looked like this, with qualifying points:

1st – Petter Solberg – 150pts

2nd – Johan Kristoffersson – 135pts

3rd – Mattias Ekstrom – 126pts

4th – Andreas Bakkerud – 119pts

5th – Sebastien Loeb – 115pts

6th – Timmy Hansen – 115pts

7th – Ken Block – 113pts

8th – Kevin Eriksson – 101pts

9th – Timur Timerzyanov – 98pts

10th – Janis Baumanis – 97pts

11th – Andrew Jordan – 95pts

12th – Toomas Heikkinen – 94pts

——————————————

13th – Guy Wilks – 89pts

14th – Jean-Baptiste Dubourg – 86pts

15th – Niclas Gronholm – 85pts

16th – Rene Muennich – 84pts

17th – Kevin Hansen – 83pts

18th – Oliver O’Donovan – 80pts

19th – Gregoire Demoutier – 76pts

20th – Reinis Nitiss – 74pts

21st – CSUCSU – 73pts

22nd – Martin Kaczmarski – 73pts

23rd – Oliver Bennett – 68pts

24th – M.D.K. – 67pts

Q4 was going to be so important and with some very talented drivers outside the top twelve it would take some big efforts for a place in the semi-final heats. From Timerzyanov to Heikkinen, those drivers would be looking over their shoulders for those contenders chasing a place. All drivers down to 16th place would gain championship points during the qualifying heats so there were further battles down the order to be completed.

Sweden’s Timmy Hansen set the fastest time in Q4 at the World RX of Great Britain to end Norway’s Petter Solberg’s runs of fastest times.

Hansen took the joker lap early in his race and won on track to be fastest, as in the last race of the Q3 session Johan Kristoffersson beat his team mate Solberg for the first time of the weekend, Kristoffersson second behind Hansen in Q4 with Solberg in third. Solberg was top qualifier at the Intermediate Classification and as a result would start on pole position for semi-final one, while Kristoffersson would start on pole position in semi-final two.

Hansen’s Q4 time means he moved to third in the Intermediate Classification and would join Solberg on the front row for semi-final one, Kristoffersson joined by his countryman Mattias Ekstrom on the first row for semi-final two. Ekstrom who was eighth fastest in Q4 after a battle with Sebastien Loeb, the nine-time World Rally Champion would start on the second row of the same semi-final race, next to MJP Racing Team Austria’s Kevin Eriksson and in front of Latvia’s Janis Baumanis and Finland’s Topi Heikkinen.

Hoonigan Racing Division team mates Andreas Bakkerud and Ken Block were fourth and fifth in Q4 and would start together on row two of semi-final one, with Andrew Jordan and Timur Timerzyanov also making it into the top 12 to join the semi-final one grid on the third row. Reigning FIA European Rallycross Champion Kevin Hansen, who was celebrating his 19th birthday at Lydden Hill, was ninth fastest in Q4 but just missed out on a place in the semi-finals due to technical problems he encountered the previous day.

The semi-final line-ups would look like this:

SEMI-FINAL 1

ROW 1

Petter Solberg – VW Polo GTI

Timmy Hansen – Peugeot 208

ROW 2

Andreas Bakkerud – Ford Focus RS

Ken Block – Ford Focus RS

ROW 3

Janis Baumanis – Ford Fiesta

Timur Timerzyanov – Ford Fiesta

SEMI-FINAL 2

ROW 1

Johan Kristoffersson – VW Polo GTI

Mattias Ekstrom – Audi S1

ROW 2

Sebastien Loeb – Peugeot 208

Andrew Jordan – Ford Fiesta

ROW 3

Kevin Eriksson – Ford Fiesta

Toomas Heikkinen – Audi S1

We had watched Q3 at the back end of the circuit opposite Chessons Drift. We looked down at the entrance to the joker with the packed car park in our view on the opposite side of the circuit. The bank rises up and to the right the trees block the view of the start/finish line, but my can you hear the engines as they rev up. It’s a weird mix of acoustics as the sound of the revving cuts out and there is this low grumble which grows louder and louder until eventually the cars pop into view. Remember, these beasts can accelerate off the start line quicker than a Formula One car, so by the time they reach the entrance into the drift or the joker, whichever a driver decides, those cars are going at a rate of knots. They burst into view with the sound of screeching tyres, the smell of burning rubber being pushed up your nostrils and the dust from the drift billows up into the air and as the wind catches it the cloud switches direction and hits you in the face. It is a most incredible experience.

Q4 we watched from the banking directly in front of the Monster Energy tower, the view is good. You can see all of the circuit from this vantage point if you are standing high enough up the banking. It was from here that we decided to walk back through the paddock after the Q4 excitement to grab some lunch back at the car and to see what faces I could bump into.

I had a Pit Crew Staff t-shirt which was tucked in my waistband and I had decided I was going to get some drivers to sign it, for prosperities sake. The first person I managed to grab on the way back to lunch was Janis Baumanis. There was a little translation problem at first as he took my marker pen, I thought he was saying “write”, which I thought was odd as I wanted him to write it, but turns out he meant “tight”, so Viv pointed out to me that he wanted me to pull the t-shirt tighter. That little obstacle conquered and signature number one out the way.

Sebastien Loeb walked out the Peugeot garage, he was in jovial mood and was smiling for photographs. I asked him how preparations were going for the semi-final and he winked, giving me a thumbs up. I took that as things were going pretty well.

Managed to get Andrew Jordan to sign the Pit Crew t-shirt and we decided to head back to the car for lunch.

The cars were lining up in the pre-grid for the semi-final heats, there was a World War Two fly-by and the national anthem. I had arranged to meet Neil Cole, the WRX television reporter, and I could see him interviewing Petter Solberg and feverishly walking around the paddock so I walked round, leaving Viv on the public side and entered the pre-grid area. I wandered over to the race office and leant over the wooden fencing and called Neil’s name, he was leaning against the wall. He smiled and shook my hand and I could tell he was busy so I let him get on.

I walked down into the pre-grid area where the cars were assembled, mechanics performing their final checks, media personnel buzzing around and VIP guests standing to one side and watching. I had the crew from Hoonigan Racing Division standing next to me, a mixture of nationalities but I managed to make out a few Americans and British accents. They were discussing the upcoming semi-final and judging by the conversation there was a lot of confidence about Bakkerud making it through.

The Frenchman I met yesterday was standing above me on the gantry and he smiled. “Four-thirty!” he shouted down, giving me the thumbs up. I returned the greeting and said that I would be there.

The cars for semi-final one were being moved out onto the grid, I was standing just inches away and it wasn’t just the noise but the heat coming from the cars was unbelievable. Neil Cole ran back through, he intimated to me by touching his ear-piece that the live show was on so now wasn’t a good time to talk. I understood.

The Hoonigan mechanics were right with their feelings as Andreas Bakkerud qualified in 2nd place just under a second behind Petter Solberg, with Timmy Hansen bringing his Peugeot through in 4th. The second semi-final would see Solberg’s team mate Kristoffersson win convincingly over Loeb and Ekstrom, who was having by his standards a particularly quiet weekend, in 3rd. The final was set. I also managed to get a photograph with Kevin Eriksson.

ROW 1

Petter Solberg

Johan Kristoffersson

ROW 2

Andreas Bakkerud

Sebastien Loeb

ROW 3

Timmy Hansen

Mattias Ekstrom

During the final I stood underneath the Cooper Tire inflatable with Kevin Eriksson next to me. We greeted each other and as the final got under way he commented how Petter got an electric start.

The final was underway.

Petter Solberg took an emphatic win with Johan Kristoffersson making it a one-two for PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, while Hoonigan Racing Division’s Andreas Bakkerud took the third podium spot in his Ford Focus RS RX Supercar.

Kristoffersson’s runner-up position this weekend catapulted the Swede to the top of the drivers’ standings – four points ahead of Mattias Ekstrom who finished fourth in his Audi S1 EKS RX Quattro. Ekstrom, who suffered a puncture in today’s final, had the fastest reaction off the start awarding the reigning World RX Champion with the coveted Monster Energy Super Charge Award. In the overall teams’ standings, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden continue to dominate – 69 points ahead of Team Peugeot-Hansen who remain second.

“This is the victory I needed,” beamed Solberg, who took his first win since Portugal 2016. “The team have been flat out over the last couple of months – the car is good but it’s the little details that the team have been working on that has given us the consistency we need. It’s been good team-work with Johan too – we give and take a little bit from each other and it’s been working very well. Now I’m looking forward to my home event in Norway – we have done some testing there and know the track well so this will help. It’s a very special place for us – we are a small country but with over 25,000 fans attending Hell RX the atmosphere is always fantastic. I have competed in motorsport for many years and things can happen very quickly – we must remain consistent and stay smart. Regarding Lydden Hill, I have to say thank you – the atmosphere is always amazing and the volunteers have been great.”

New Championship leader Kristoffersson commended Solberg on his Lydden Hill victory. “Congratulations to Petter, he has been brilliant all weekend,” explained the 28-year-old Swede. “He has had the upper hand since the draw and managed his tyres very well. It’s all about the points now, I am now leading the Championship and the Teams’ Championship is looking very good too. My launches are now feeling better and the reaction times are getting faster every time – it’s been a good team effort. I’m really pleased with the weekend and this is the fourth Volkswagen podium in a row. Now I’m leading the Championship for the first time on my own and it’s a great feeling – I will definitely be fighting hard to keep it that way!”

Third-placed Andreas Bakkerud added: “Huge congratulations to Petter and Johan – both have been quick from practice onwards and for me, this weekend was about being the best of the rest. The whole team did a fantastic job – we tried our hardest but it was not quite fast enough. It’s just a small window of time before Hell, we have some developments to try so I must push that weekend and I hope that we can get back to the top.”

Rounding out the top five this weekend was Frenchman Sebastien Loeb – the Team Peugeot-Hansen driver fighting hard with Ekstrom for the majority of today’s final. Timmy Hansen was sixth overall, the Swede slowed after spinning his Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar on North Bend and later losing time with a left-rear puncture.

I headed to the media centre where I caught up with Petter Solberg for a one-on-one interview. He remembered me from our interview on top of the Monster Energy stage last year and smiled whilst shaking my hand, which I thought was a really nice gesture.

“I know you like it at Lydden. Last race here, what did that mean to you?” I asked.

“For sure it means a lot, it’s sad that we are going.” Petter replied.

“I was looking at the times of the session across the weekend and at times you were one to two seconds above everyone else. What made that difference?” I asked.

“The driver.”

We both laughed, what a great response. Petter shook my hand and thanked me for the questions, he wished me well and said “See you again,” before wandering off to the stage to be interviewed for the television with Kristoffersson and Bakkerud.

I listened in to the press conference surrounded by all the other media outlets, journalists jostling for places to get the best audio recordings.

I headed away from the media centre after the drivers had spoken to meet up with Viv who was taking in the sights of the circuit being cleared up and we headed off to the Team Peugeot garage. The PR lady took myself and Viv through to the hospitality suite and she informed us the drivers were having their debrief and she wasn’t sure how long they were going to be.

I sat down and readied my questions and we waited as the Peugeot staff cleared away the equipment and other media representatives waited patiently. Time moved by and it appeared the drivers were busier than had been expected. The PR lady walked in and said she wasn’t sure how long they were going to be as there had been a lot to discuss. Not knowing how long it was going to take, we had been waiting for about half an hour and also not wanting to look like a pest I said that I understood they were very busy and that maybe we could arrange an interview with all three drivers another time. She agreed to this and seemed a bit relieved I wasn’t being pushy about the interview which had been arranged.

I have this outlook on interviews that if I came across as a pushy and impatient writer then any future articles would be lost because people remember. I use Petter Solberg as an example, he remembered how I spoke to him the previous year at Lydden and although he was due to get to the stage for TV, he took the time to come and talk to me, because he remembered. I hope the same applies to the Team Peugeot representatives.

If you have read my Adventures From Lydden article last year and this two part live special, you won’t need to be told how much of a fantastic time I have at World Rallycross events. This weekend in particular was just an amazing adventure. I got to meet some great people, spoke informally with drivers in a relaxed atmosphere and had an extreme amount of fun. This was Viv’s first visit to a World Rallycross event and she also enjoyed the whole race weekend experience. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if you have never been to a WRX event, then I highly recommend you put this on your to-do list.

Thank you World Rallycross. Thank you Lydden Hill.

Here are your championship standings:

See you at the chequered flag.

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Twitter: @world_racing

Photographs © – Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

The Lydden Frontier – Part One

World Rallycross

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Although Lydden Hill Circuit is not too far from our home, it was an early start as we prepared the provisions for our day at World Rallycross, the last one to be held at Lydden Hill.

We arrived in good time and were directed to the media car park behind the grandstands. The swirling clouds had gathered and it looked like our decision to wear summer tops and shorts was a bad one. We had nothing to fear, the sun would shine and shine very bright on this fantastic event and superb circuit.

As soon as we got out the car you could hear the WRX cars in free practice and noise of the engines, not far from us. “Oh my!” Viv said with a smile on her face. She’s a petrol head and I just knew from that opening statement she was going to enjoy today.

The first visit was to the paddock to cast our eyes around the garages and marquees. I saw Janis Baumanis wandering down the pit lane and decided to ask him how he thought things were going. He was in good spirits and appeared happy with how his preparations were going. Baumanis was sitting 9th after the free practice which had been dominated by Solberg and Kristoffersson, Ekstrom a further six tenths behind the PSRX drivers. Bumped into Reinis Nitiss, he smiled and looked upbeat. I also wandered over and spoke with Mattias Ekstrom at the area where they scrutineer the cars. He was his usual smiling self and stopped to have his photograph taken with fans. I thanked him for doing my Quick 10 interview recently and he said it was a pleasure. I wished him luck as I could see he was in a rush to get to his car and I didn’t want to hold him up.

This was Viv’s first time in the WRX paddock so I decided to give her the tour of the circuit. We walked round each paddock in a zig-zag formation, through to the area where they scrutineer the cars and then up to the Monster Energy stage. A quick “pit stop” there to grab some energy drinks and then off round the side of the Canterbury Straight, but through the camp site set behind the trees and at the rear of race control.

We had a great view of the circuit, wandered up on top of the Monster Energy tower and I managed to get my photo taken with a Monster Energy girl, as you do.

The path winds through a beautiful wooded area and if it wasn’t for the sound of the popping, whizzing and cracking of the rallycross cars just metres away it painted a picture of tranquility. We continued to walk up a steep rise to stand behind the joker between Pilgrims and Chessons Drift. The WRX cars were out and we stood just metres away as they came round to practice their joker laps, dust flying up into the air and into the crowd. Mattias Ekstrom nearly lost his back end coming into the joker. That could have been costly!

After grabbing a few snaps we walked into the massive grass car parking area down the side of Dover Slope. The rallycross cars were still flying round but our attention was also drawn to some fantastic spectator cars parked up, Viv, being a massive Ford fan, had her attention drawn to the selection of Ford Focus RS’s and Ford Fiesta’s on display and an Aston Martin. In fact throughout the day I think we visited the garage of Hoonigan Racing Division more times than any other team, not that I minded.

We finished up standing at the North Bend looking down Hairy Hill and it was the RX2 cars who were now skirting round the circuit. The sun was now blazing down. It was time to grab some refreshments.

Once refreshed, I decided to visit the garage of MJP Racing, having interviewed team boss Max Pucher and Kevin Eriksson this week in my build up. Max had told me in a conversation we had to stop by the garage. I spoke to one of the team members who informed me that Max was racing in Italy this weekend. I managed to see Kevin before the qualifying heats, he was standing in front of the television in the team hospitality area studying the times. As he turned I called him and Kevin walked over smiling.

I thanked him for doing the Quick 10 interview questions with me and he said it was a pleasure and he enjoyed the questions. He leant on the barrier and we just spoke informally, it didn’t feel like I was interviewing him, it just seemed like a normal converstaion. He told me he was feeling good this weekend and was hoping for a final slot. Kevin added that with everybody so close together in terms of timing, it was difficult to predict anything right now. I asked him what it was like having Andrew Jordan stepping in as team mate instead of Timo Scheider this weekend. Kevin smiled and said that Andrew was great to be around but it was strange having him as a team mate as he had now got used to Timo being part of the team. Kevin looked extremely relaxed and happy. Not wanting to take up too much of his valuable time, I wished him well, thanked him for his time and we shook hands. A genuinely nice person.

I love wandering around any racing paddock but there is something truly remarkable about the World Rallycross paddock. The teams are friendly, the personnel very accommodating and it is just a really relaxed atmosphere. Knowing that this is going to be the last WRX weekend before the championship switches RX Great Britain to Silverstone did fill me with a little bit of sadness and I truly hope the paddock stays as it is when it moves.

Heading into Q1 the following grid was decided (Pole is situated to the right of the circuit):

RACE 1

Mattias Ekstrom (Pole)

Andreas Bakkerud

Ken Block

Niclas Gronholm

RACE 2

Petter Solberg (Pole)

Johan Kristoffersson

CSUCSU

Rene Muennich

Timur Timerzyanov

RACE 3

Andrew Jordan (Pole)

Reinis Nitiss

Oliver O’Donovan

Timmy Hansen

M.D.K.

RACE 4

Janis Baumanis (Pole)

Kevin Eriksson

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg

Toomas Heikkinen

Guy Wilks

RACE 5

Gregoire Demoustier (Pole)

Oliver Bennett

Kevin Hansen

Sebastien Loeb

Martin Kaczmarski

The story of Q1 was that Petter Solberg would finish just under a second ahead of his team mate Johan Kristoffersson who was also two seconds ahead of championship leader Mattias Ekstrom. Andreas Bakkerud, Timmy Hansen, Ken Block, Sebastien Loeb, Toomas Heikkinen, Kevin Eriksson, Andrew Jordan, Janis Baumanis and Timur Timerzyanov would make up the top twelve, the drivers who after all four qualifying heats would make it through to the semi-finals.

Reinis Nitiss received a thirty second time penalty for not taking his joker lap and Niclas Gronholm had a terrible accident after his car rolled several times exiting onto the Dover Slope. The driver emerged from the car unscathed and scrambled over the barriers to safety.

The grids for the second round of qualifying read like this:

RACE 1

M.D.K. (Pole)

Oliver Bennett

Reinis Nitiss

Niclas Gronholm

RACE 2

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg (Pole)

CSUCSU

Martin Kaczmarski

Gregoire Demoustier

Oliver O’Donovan

RACE 3

Janis Baumanis (Pole)

Timur Timerzyanov

Kevin Hansen

Guy Wilks

Rene Muennich

RACE 4

Ken Block (Pole)

Sebastien Loeb

Toomas Heikkinen

Kevin Eriksson

Andrew Jordan

RACE 5

Petter Solberg (Pole)

Johan Kristoffersson

Mattias Ekstrom

Andreas Bakkerud

Timmy Hansen

In Q2 it was business as usual for the three fastest drivers from Q1 who held those positions again with Solberg, Kristoffersson and Ekstrom leading the way. Ekstrom was still two seconds off the Polo pace and he must be wondering how to claw that gap back. Solberg, as always, enjoys Lydden Hill.

“It’s not easy,” said Solberg afterwards. “it’s quite a special track, but it’s a fantastic feeling. Some improvements we have done from the last race have made me more comfortable and faster. It’s great, to be fastest on this track is always a dream and I’m happy I must say.” Petter then eluded to his team mate. “Johan has also done a fantastic job, so a good team effort again.”

The GRX mechanics worked quickly and superbly on Gronholm’s wrecked car from Q1 and the Finn managed to put his car into 10th. Reinis Nitiss retired after contact with a barrier at the first corner.

We had been sitting at the joker when Nitiss collided with the barrier and came to a grinding halt. There were a large group of Latvian supporters next to us and they groaned. Nitiss climbed out the car, hopped over the barrier and sat down on the grass watching the remaining cars complete the race. He had his head in his hands and looked very upset. The only time he looked up was when the Latvian supporters proudly chanted his name and he slowly raised his hand to acknowledge their support.

Heading to the last two qualifying heats tomorrow the heat will definitely be on for Toomas Heikkinen as he sits just outside the important twelve places. A great set of qualifying sessions for Andrew Jordan who sits in 8th place and must be confident of a semi-final place barring any unfortunate accidents.

The two other British entrants also taking part this weekend, Guy Wilks and Oliver Bennett find themselves 12th and 23rd respectively with Ireland’s Oliver O’Donovan in 17th. The Ford pairing of Andreas Bakkerud and Ken Block from Hoonigan Racing Division look fast this weekend and are looking at making some improvements overnight to put them even more in contention for honours.

As with my last visit, it was an incredible day. We managed to be present at the Rig Riot, the music blaring, Monster Energy girls dancing on stage and throwing out t-shirts to the crowd with Andreas Bakkerud, Ken Block, Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson. It’s amazing how many people will jump, push and bump their way into position for one of those t-shirts. In the VIP/Media car park you get to meet all sorts of people and I struck up a conversation with a man who was visiting from France and informed me that he was staying in Sandwich, a small Cinque Port town not far from the circuit. He asked me what my role was here today and I showed him my media pass and explained I was the WRX Editor at The Pit Crew Online. That is when he told me he was the main sponsor for not only Team Peugeot but for IMG, the event organisers. In the next breath he invited myself and Viv to the team hospitality suite to talk with Timmy Hansen, Kevin Hansen and Sebastien Loeb. Add that to the invitation we had to the RX2 after race party and, well, you can imagine we were extremely pleased with our day of “meets-and-greets”.

We wandered around the historic car marquee and then sat in the shade by the trees as they put on their show on track. Yes, the same as last year the sun beamed down and I have sunburn. We both left having thoroughly enjoyed the racing, the spectacle and the show which is World Rallycross, it never fails to deliver.

That was our Saturday adventure and tomorrow we get to do it all again.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Photographs: (c) Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

A WRX Farewell To Lydden

(c) Image courtesy of Lydden Hill Circuit

 

World Rallycross bids a tearful farewell to Lydden Hill Circuit this weekend in what will be an emotional send off.

Situated in East Kent between Canterbury and Dover, Lydden Hill Circuit is a historic track with a fantastic, sweeping layout. A friend of mine once called it “The Monza Of Kent”. Yes a little enthusiastic, but I can see where he’s coming from.

It is the shortest racing circuit in the UK and from the late fifties it attracted stock-car racing and with motorcycles, grass-track racing. In the mid-sixties tarmac was laid and it attracted Formula Three attracting such drivers as Roger Williamson and Tom Walkinshaw. it was around the same time which Lydden Hill gave birth to Rallycross and the first race was won by a Porsche 911 driven by Vic Elford. James Hunt recorded his first race win at Lydden Hill, driving a Russell-Alexis Mk14 Formula Ford and returned just under one year later to record a second win.

Since that time, British Rallycross, European Rallycross and FIA Rallycross events have flocked to Lydden Hill and it is tagged with “The Home Of Rallycross”. It truly is.

Since 1993 the circuit was leased to the British Motorcycle Club and it allowed both cars and bikes to use the track.

World Rallycross came to Lydden Hill on 24th May 2014. In that first year names who will grace the circuit this season raced and won. Andreas Bakkerud won the final and it was one year later when Petter Solberg took the spoils. Last season Mattias Ekstrom reigned supreme in what was a fantastic weekend of racing.

Andrew Jordan, who returns this year for MJP Racing in place of Timo Scheider, won Heat 3 at Lydden Hill in 2015 and he would love to repeat such a performance in 2017.

Yes, World Rallycross is moving to Silverstone, the championship is growing not only in stature but in numbers and popularity. Many Rallycross fans are sad to see WRX leave Lydden Hill, I am one of them, but emotions aside it has to be said that if World Rallycross as an FIA event wishes to grow and move forward in the world of motorsport it needs a bigger venue. Is Silverstone the correct venue? That is soon to be found out.

This weekend I will be attending Lydden Hill with my good lady (as photographer) for what appears to be the last time for a WRX event. It is going to be the usual fun, chaotic weekend full of mayhem and excitement but behind the smiles there will be a tinge of sadness. I won’t stop going to Lydden Hill as it will still host some fantastic events and the owners of the circuit will already be working on how to promote the track further.

It is going to be a hell of a weekend. Join us tomorrow at @PitCrew_Online as myself – @world_racing and my photographer @viv_simmons enter the heat of the bowl.

The time has come. It’s Rallycross and anything can happen.

See you at the chequered flag.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

Adventures At Lydden – May 2016

In 2016 I visited Lydden Hill as a paying spectator to watch World Rallycross live. This year I will be attending as a media representative, along with my good lady as photographer, with the official passes, giving my reports of the entire weekend. I am very much looking forward to it.

It is also the last year WRX will visit Lydden Hill before it moves on to pastures new.

To celebrate my return to Lydden I thought I would republish the shenanigans from last season. Interviewing a champion, bumping into a BTCC champion, walking the paddock and accidentally getting involved with scrutineering.

This is World Rallycross and this is what happened last year.

Cue a thumping theme tune…….

The Saturday.

There are three things that I will take away from the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill. The series itself is insanely entertaining, Lydden Hill is a fantastic circuit and I have sunburn.

The sun literally blazed down at the weekend and what a glorious two days it was too. In my life as a racing fan and writer, I have been to some terrific circuits and events but I have to say that after my first visit to Lydden Hill and a WRX event it has definitely hit the button of ‘favourite’.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

This visit had been planned for some while with a good friend of mine and we had both been counting the days. I had not planned to write an article for The Pit Crew, but as the date drew closer it morphed into a good idea. I had moved to Kent just over a year ago and quickly found out that Lydden Hill was on my doorstep. That was when the decision was made to attend the FIA World Rallycross Championship. A decision that proved to be outstanding.

I have been a big fan of World Rallycross since its inception, but this visit has made me fall in love with the event.

We arrived on the Saturday, a day that would include practice, two qualifying rounds of WRX and three qualifying rounds of the Super 1600’s and RX Lites. In between there would be stunt shows, drifting, Group B demonstrations and the chance to walk around a very accessible paddock area. Now, this is where WRX differs from a lot of other championships I have attended. It is quite normal to be standing in the paddock of a support series, but being inches away from the cars and drivers such as Sebastien Loeb, Ken Block, Petter Solberg, Mattias Ekstrom and Liam Doran! That was just quite unbelievable.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

So, there I am getting out the car with the track in the dip below me and I was instantly impressed. My mate and I were treating Saturday as a bit of a recce but soon found out that the action on track was just non-stop. The turnaround in races at a World Rallycross event are extraordinary. No sooner are the cars on their warm down lap than the next set of cars are lined up on the grid. The 1600’s were out practicing and so we wandered up to North Bend and down the side of Hairy Hill.

The first set of awnings I came across had the Group B demonstration cars inside. They all looked retro and proud with big bodywork and even bigger spoilers. We sauntered down and came to the paddock area. First sightings were of the Super 1600 cars and we just casually walked by the garages as the drivers wandered around and the mechanics worked on the cars to get them ready for the upcoming qualifying heats. We took a zig-zag route and passed by the large awning of Terry Grant with his stunt cars. More about them later.

My first visit would be to Hoonigan Racing Division. There was Ken Block’s #43 car in it’s multi liveried glory sitting in the garage as a couple of mechanics made some adjustments. As I cast my eye up, there was the great man himself standing about two feet away from me. I crossed over the paddock to where Johan Kristoffersson’s car was up on a jack with the right wheelbase being looked at, an engineer busily replacing something which looked rather important.

Over at Team Peugeot-Hansen, both Sebastien Loeb and Timmy Hansen were having hasty work done to their cars in readiness for the upcoming qualifiers. The mechanics looked a bit busy, too busy. Walk round the corner with World RX Team Austria awnings to the right. They had two helicopters in the field behind! Two!

We had been walking around looking at the paddock when I walked by a man wearing a baseball cap, Red Bull sponsored Audi shirt and sunglasses. I did a double take and continued to walk on as my brain tried to tell my mouth who I thought I had seen.

“That’s Andrew Jordan!” I said to my mate.
“Where?” He asked.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

I pointed behind and with him being a big BTCC fan, he wandered back and with the subtle nature of a brick, leaned on the guard rail, turned and stared at Andrew Jordan. He looked across at me and nodded. I walked back and he got his camera out.

“Go get a pic,” he said.

I didn’t want to seem like a pillock so waited for a moment as he was in the middle of a conversation. Then, when I thought the time was right, I walked over.

“Andrew Jordan?” I asked.
“Yes, mate.” He replied.
“Do you mind if I have photo? Big fan of yours.”
“Sure.”

We stood next to each other and I had my photo taken with a BTCC champion. I thanked him for the photo and wished him the best of luck for the rest of the season. Bizarre! – Great spot though.

I walked down a bit further and there was the massive set-up of double world champion, Petter Solberg. Now, in my build-up to Lydden Hill I had emailed the PR Manager of Petter Solberg cheekily asking for a quick interview with the champ himself, not expecting any kind of reply. Imagine my surprise when I got an email saying, “Yes, sure come after Q2 on Saturday.” – I looked inside the garage and there was Petter talking to his team. Now was not the time so I left the other fans taking photographs and wandered down the slope towards the dummy grid where they line up. Liam Doran’s car was already there, mechanics standing by the car with arms folded.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

Opposite Paddock Bend and above the dummy grid area I saw the Monster Energy stage and decided to go up. They had the stunt cars lined up and I saw a two sets of steps leading up to the hospitality area with security guards. I just wandered up, a security guard jigging to the booming music being played. He smiled and ushered me inside and that’s when I saw the PS4 WRX game set up which my mate made a bee-line for. I wandered cautiously over to the Monster bar, not knowing if we were supposed to be here or not and ordered a Monster Lemon Rossi with the VR46 logo all over it in a yellow can. I stood looking out as the cars went hurtling round the track. The qualifying had started. This was a great vantage point so we decided to stay where we were. The stage was set high above the paddock and I had a great view of what was going on. During the interval, Terry Grand came out in his Monster sponsored cars, drove around the entire circuit on two wheels, performed drifts and set a Ford Sedan Legend up to go round in a circle on its own whilst he did the same in the opposite direction in his TVR. Very entertaining I must say. The drift cars came out and did their thing. I’m not a massive drift fan but it was very impressive and put on a great show.

This is when the start of what was a very entertaining day became surreal. I had already drunk two cans of Monster, I’m hyper enough anyway so imagine that included into the equation. This had the desired effect that I needed the gents. I explained to my mate that I was popping off to find one.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

On the way I saw Kevin Hansen standing at his awning talking to someone. Feeling slightly brave I slowed my walk and casually, without looking too weird (I hope) looked at the car being worked on. The man he was talking to walked off and Kevin just shot me a glance. I took my opportunity.

“Kevin, I write for The Pit Crew Online, wondered if I could just ask you a couple of questions?” I asked, expecting a shake of the hand or just a polite no.
“Sure.”
In my head the reply was “What! Sorry? Did you just say sure?” – Think quick Simmo.
“Tough day today, how are you finding it out there?”
“It was hot and very tough. Hoping to deliver better.”
“What do you think of Lydden?”
“Great circuit, very quick.”

I nodded to the car and Kevin smiled as the mechanic worked on it, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say “No idea” and politely waved as he walked off.

I saw World RX Team Austria driver. Janis Baumanis, he had a huge fan base at Lydden, he smiled and I said:

“How’s the car?”
“Good.” He replied and smiled.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

With those spontaneous Q&A’s done, I wandered off to the gents in the corner. On the way back I could see a large crowd gathering as cars were going out. I worked my through and as I reached the turning that would take me back to the Monster Energy stage I noticed it was cordoned off and fans were being stopped from moving across. I gazed around and noticed that I had a line of cars coming up behind me. RX Lites. All the people surrounding me wore FIA World Rallycross identification and I suddenly felt slightly out of place. I asked the marshal if I could duck through but she said I’d have to wait where I was for a moment. The people around me were FIA scrutineers and they were checking the cars. A young lad who was part of their team stood next to me. I looked at him and smiled uncomfortably, he smiled back and walked away from the man he was with to the front of the car. The grey haired man with the clipboard turned and said to me.

“Can you see that damage at the back?”
“Yes,” I replied nervously.
“Was that from Q1?”
“I have no idea.” I replied still feeling rather nervous.
“It’s not too much. I think it’s fine to race, what do you think?” He asked.
“I think if you reckon it’s fine then that’s good enough for me.” I replied not knowing what to do. The marshal was wetting herself. This was slightly awkward.

He waved the car on and his young assistant joined him. He gazed at the young man, realising he had not been speaking to his assistant and then looked back at me. I just smiled and suddenly felt very uncomfortable. The grey haired man laughed, tapped me on the shoulder and walked away. Phew! The cars filed through and eventually the marshal let me escape, still laughing.

I ran back to the Monster stage and told my mate who just laughed and shook his head. The surreal moments did not stop there.

This is where I bumped into an official Monster and WRX photographer, I didn’t get his name. We were on top of the Monster Energy tower watching the racing with an RX Lite driver who had been punted off the track wandering back onto the track after the race in front of the car who had smacked him to remonstrate with the driver. That was quite entertaining. The photographer explained that he had just come back from Rally Portugal. As we stood there just chatting about racing, it was getting chilly. He took off his very expensive camera equipment and placed them on the floor.

“Do you mind watching that whilst I grab a jersey?”
“Sorry.” I said, looking down at the thousands of pounds worth of equipment on the floor.
“If you could keep an eye on it for me, be back in a minute.”
“Er, yeah. Sure.”

Off he wandered leaving me, somebody he had never met, guarding his extremely expensive camera equipment.

“There’s probably a deposit worth of a house there you’re looking after.” My mate said, which made me feel a bit nervous.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

Fortunately the cameraman wasn’t too long, I was so relieved. Wandering back through the paddock after Q2, as instructed by Petter Solberg’s PR, I noticed that he was in deep conversation. The option had been given for me to chat to him after the race on Sunday and I was beginning to think this was a good idea as the crowds gathered round his awning and I didn’t know what his PR man, named Per, looked like. Suddenly my mate nodded in the opposite direction and there was Marcus Gronholm standing with his World Rallycross driver son Niclas. I wandered over and as I got closer, Marcus got taller. He is huge! I noticed he was being very fan friendly and so I asked him if I could have my photo taken with him and his son Niclas.

“Sure.” We stood waiting for my mate to take the photo and he said “One hundred Euro’s a snap.” He laughed and that was the picture opportunity done. So not too bad, a BTCC driver, double World Rally champion and a WRX driver on my tick list.

Walked by the Hoonigan Garage and shook hands with Andreas Bakkerud. Name dropping all over the place. He had a huge fan club, all dressed up in their blue hoodies. They looked like they were having fun.

During the day we had walked the entire circuit, had a spot of lunch, saw a lot a grid girls, walked the paddocks and witnessed some epic racing we decided to go back to the Monster Energy tower.

I had decided to give up on the Petter Solberg for today and go and find him tomorrow after the final. We stood on top of the tower and my mate nudged me and pointed at the Quest TV crew who were setting up for an interview. I didn’t pay much attention and then one of the crew wandered over to us.

“Hi, guys. Sorry to be pain. Do you mind if we use your spot for a bit? We’re interviewing Petter Solberg.”

A rounding “No, we don’t mind at all,” was the response he received.

He chatted to us and I mentioned that I was supposed to be interviewing Petter today but he seemed a little busy.

“Well, why don’t you have him after we’re done.” Said the Quest crew member.

A few minutes later, Petter Solberg in full race uniform walked up with a couple of people and had his TV interview with Quest. My friend pointed at two men standing in front of me, an old guy with a notebook writing furiously and a young guy about my height with short blonde hair.

“One of those could be your man.” Said my friend who knew about the exchange of emails I had with Per, the PR man for Petter Solberg.

Neil Simmons 2016 (c)

I checked both men. The older man seemed like a journalist and so I discounted him. I looked at the blonde haired man and took a deep breath.

“Excuse me. Are you Per?” I asked.
“Yes.” He replied.
“Neil, from the Pit Crew Online. We emailed each other.”
“Ah! Yes. Neil Simmons.” Per said smiling.
“I could see Petter was really busy earlier as he is now, so I may leave the interview until tomorrow.” I said politely.
“We can do it straight after this TV interview. No problem.” Per replied.

I felt my heart rate get a bit quicker. Petter was nearing the end of his interview and I was about to be faced by a double World Rallycross champion.

“Only if you’re sure?” I asked.
“Sure. No problem.”

We stood to one side and I had noticed earlier my phone had died so I persuaded my friend to use his voice recorder on the phone to record the interview. Per nodded to me and I wandered over with the Quest TV crew watching on with a gathering of journalists who had been waved away. I felt out of my depth and slightly nervous, but I took a deep breath. I knew I only had three questions, due to time constraints.

“Hello. Petter. The Pit Crew Online, I write for them. We follow your career and I’m doing a special feature.” Petter relaxed from the initial approach and nodded at me.

“How did you feel how today went?” I asked, knowing that he had blitzed everybody in qualifying.

“I feel good. We did a lot of hard work since the last race in Belgium, because the Audi’s have been a little bit faster. But now I think we are catching them back again.” He replied.

“But you like Lydden don’t you?” I asked and Petter smiled.

“Ah. Lydden is a fantastic track. I am looking forward to tomorrow. We are going to try to do some small adjustments to get the team in first place.” Petter replied.

“And who do you think will be your biggest challenger tomorrow. Ekstrom?” I asked.

“Yeah. Ekstrom.Yeah. Definitely.”

Petter Solberg smiled and I put my hand forward and we shook.

“Fantastic. Thank you, Petter.”

He was welcoming, cheery and had a very relaxed nature about him. I had been very nervous but straight from the off he relaxed me. If I had more time then I could have gone into a few more questions but I knew he was against the clock.

That was Day One at Lydden. Bizarre, surreal and I interviewed Petter Solberg. World Rallycross offers some fantastic racing, insane action and boy…do they know how to put on a show! Lydden as a circuit is just so nice. I loved it.

I came to Lydden Hill as a motor racing writer and a World Rallycross fan, I left falling even more in love with this series. If you have never been to WRX event I urge you to go. Honestly, you won’t regret it.

Neil Simmons

WRX Editor

Twitter: @world_racing

 

Quick 10 With…..Max Pucher

Born in Vienna, he is an Austrian businessman and rallycross driver, he is also co-founder of a Swiss-Austrian software company.

He competed a full 2015 season in the World Rallycross Championship and selected events in last year’s European Rallycross Championship.

He is responsible for pairing up Kevin Eriksson and Timo Scheider this season and has signed Andrew Jordan to compete at Lydden. He is the team boss of MJP Racing, these are his Quick 10 questions and he is…..Max Pucher

1. What is your favourite circuit and why?
My favorite track for fun driving is Hell, Norway.

2. Who is/was your racing idol?
I really do not have idols. I admire quite a few drivers for skill and personality and Timo Scheider and Patrick Sandell belong there.

3. Who would you regard as your toughest opponent?
In RX there are always 4 opponents in each heat and they are always the toughest right now.

4. Considering racers of all time, you are a team principal and money is no object. Which two racers would you have in your team?
In RX I would choose Kristofferson and Loeb for speed and marketing value. But Timo Scheider comes right afterwards.

5. If you could invite four famous people to dinner (past and present), who would you invite?
As I would cook myself I would invite Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey, Wolfgang Puck and Giada De Laurentiis.

6. Personal racing number? What is it and the reason behind it?
My number is 31 and it is my birthday.

7. What is the best race you have been involved in?
My best race will always be the next one.

8. Is there a race or series you have not competed in, that you would like to or had wanted to?
I am really just interested in Rallycross.

9. How did you get into motor racing? What ignited that spark?
I did motorcycle racing when I was 20 and came back to car racing with 59 when I started RX. I raced the World Championship in 2015 at 60.

10. What is the best advice in racing you have been given?
Patrick Sandell: ‚All four wheels must point where you want to go when you hit the throttle!’

I would like to thank Max for taking the time out to answer these questions and I will accepting his generous invitation to visit the team garage at Lydden Hill this weekend.

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing

Images courtesy of MJP Racing

Three In A Row For Ekstrom

Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom has extended his lead in the 2017 FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy after taking a lights-to-flag victory at the Cooper Tires World RX of Hockenheim. It is the EKS driver’s third win in a row – and made even more impressive as Ekstrom also raced in DTM during the same weekend. Twenty minutes after stepping off the World RX podium, Ekstrom was back in his DTM car to take part in race two qualifying.

Hockenheim RX runner-up Johan Kristoffersson had another strong weekend after winning his semi-final which allowed the PSRX Volkswagen Sweden driver to line up alongside Ekstrom on the front row of today’s final. Ekstrom was quickest to turn one and Kristoffersson remained second for the duration of the race. Team Peugeot-Hansen driver Timmy Hansen finished third in his Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar – two spots ahead of his team-mate Sebastien Loeb who won two qualifying races and was placed top qualifier at the end of Q4.

PSRX Volkswagen Sweden’s Petter Solberg finished fourth, slowed by a bad getaway in the final. EKS driver Topi Heikkinen finished sixth and also won the Monster Energy Super Charge Award – a prize given to the driver who had the quickest reaction off the lights during the final. EKS has won all three Monster Energy Super Charge Awards so far this season with Ekstrom winning the first two in Barcelona and Portugal.

“I am super happy for Audi and for the whole team – thanks to the guys for the all their hard work which has really paid off,” said Hockenheim RX winner, Ekstrom before jumping into his DTM car for his next race.

Ekstrom’s team-mate Heikkinen added: “Friday was really hard for us so overnight we made some changes to the car that were hugely important. As a team, we are working really hard and getting very little sleep over race weekends which is obviously paying off as Mattias has now won three events in a row. He is always wanting to make changes to the car until everything is perfect. EKS has won Belgium for the last three years in a row [Heikkinen 2014 and 2015, Ekstrom in 2016] so it is a obviously a good event for us – hopefully we can take some more silverware home for the team.”

Runner-up Kristoffersson commended Ekstrom’s efforts in today’s event. He explained: “Mattias had a very good start in the final, and I tried to follow and put the pressure on him but he did not make a single mistake for six whole laps – he was driving so well. For that, he deserves this win and I wish him all the best in the DTM race this afternoon too.

Reflecting on his own performance, Kristoffersson added: “Overall it was a good weekend for us – we struggled with the balance in the car during Q1 and Q2 but the launches were very good so that left me in a good position. Everything felt better for Q3 and in Q4, it was almost perfect and I was able to push the guys out front. I had a good battle with Sebastien [Loeb] in the semi-final and it was good to show we had really picked up the pace. Both myself and Petter have been in the final for the last three events and we continue to leads the teams’ standings which we are really happy with.”

Sweden’s Timmy Hansen was pleased to have secured his first podium of the year and complimented the performance of the car. “The car was so good today,” explained the 24-year-old. “Obviously I didn’t want any rain before today’s races but it was about trying to adapt to the situation as best as I could and the start line was very slippery. I was leading for most of my semi-final but I pushed a bit too hard and I went off at the Sachs Curve which was when Mattias got in front. The final was a big challenge, Mattias and Johan were tough competitors but I’m pleased to get my first top three of the year which is an important result for the team.”

Elsewhere, MJP Racing Team Austria’s Timo Schieder was seventh. Kevin Hansen – younger brother of Timmy – was eighth, the 18-year-old having suffered a setback earlier in the day when he damaged the rear of his car after an impact during the sighting laps. Kevin Hansen, Kevin Eriksson and Reinis Nitiss were then caught in a collision in turn two of their semi-final. Hoonigan Racing Division’s Ken Block spun in his semi-final.

After the first three rounds of the 2017 season, Ekstrom leads the overall standings with a total of 85 points – 16 points ahead of Kristoffersson in second. Solberg remains third with 62 points, while Loeb has moved up to fourth with 48 points – one point ahead of his team-mate Hansen. In the teams’ standings, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden lead the way with 131 points – 17 points ahead of EKS.

World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, concluded: “We’ve had 79,500 fans attend the Hockenheim RX/DTM double header and once again the rallycross Supercars have put on a fantastic display. Congratulations to Mattias, Audi and EKS for another flawless performance this weekend. The fact that Mattias is able to swap from a rallycross Supercar to a DTM car in a matter of minutes and deliver so well in both championships is testament to his sheer talent behind the wheel. Well done to Johan and Timmy also – both drivers thoroughly deserve a spot on the podium. Now the teams have very little rest as it’s straight to Mettet in Belgium for round four of the season.”

PENALTIES

Kornel Lukacs “CsuCsu” #10, Q1, Reprimand for “causing a collision”

Kornel Lukacs “CsuCsu” #10, Q2, 30 second penalty for “pushing”

Andreas Bakkerud #13, Q2, Reprimand and 20 second penalty for “pushing”

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing